Watch Out for Deer During Mating Season, Delaware Authorities Caution Drivers
Extra Vigilance on Roads Called for as Days Shorten and Deer Become More Active Morning and Evening
DNREC PRESS RELEASE Dover Oct, 23, 2023 … As clocks are about to fall back to Eastern Standard Time and the days and daylight shorten, it’s also a dangerous time of year to be on the road because of the annual white-tailed deer mating season known as the rut. During the rut, which lasts from late October through November and into December, males (bucks) go about their annual pursuit of females (does) in the First State. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Office of Highway Safety (OHS) within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and Delaware State Police (DSP) are again urging extra caution at the wheel during this time – especially after the Nov. 5 change from Daylight Saving Time to EST.
From that day through much of the holiday season, the busiest times for motorists on Delaware roadways will be around dusk and dawn, times when deer also are typically most active. Driving unlit rural roads without heavy traffic or traveling busier roadways bordered by woods are the most common scenarios for deer-vehicle collisions in Delaware. The reason is simple, according to DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist Sam Millman: “From late October to mid-December, Delaware’s white-tailed deer population explodes into a flurry of activity known as the rut, the once-a-year deer breeding season. Throughout the rut, bucks are actively searching for and chasing does to mate with them.”
The danger for motorists, he said, is that “white-tailed deer frequently cross Delaware roadways. That’s why we remind Delaware drivers to take extra precautions this time of year, especially when traveling on backroads and roadways lined by woodlands and forests, where white-tailed deer are more likely to cross.”
The latest figures from OHS also show that most deer-vehicle collisions in Delaware occur between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., spiking again between 5 p.m. and midnight. In 2022, the state recorded 1,619 crashes involving deer on the roadway. To date in 2023, there have been more than 860 deer-related crashes. OHS data also finds deer-related crashes to be most common in October, November and December, representing 46% of all Delaware vehicle-deer collisions from 2017 to 2021.
Driver cautions from OHS include “using high beams during low-light situations to spot deer along the roadside, reducing speed in areas known for deer sightings, staying attentive while driving, avoiding distractions, and always wearing seatbelts,” said Office of Highway Safety Director Sharon Bryson. By following these precautions, she said, “Motorists can decrease the likelihood of deer-related crashes and ensure a safe journey during the autumn and winter months.”
Although the average white-tailed deer in Delaware weighs about 140 pounds, larger bucks can tip the scales at 200 pounds or more, according to the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife. Hitting an animal that size may cause injury to drivers or passengers or trigger an accident involving other motorists – besides doing costly damage to vehicles involved in such a collision.
In 2022, 1,710 or 95% of the 1,801 vehicle-animal collisions investigated by Delaware State Police involved deer. Of that number, 746 collisions occurred during the deer mating season, when drivers are advised to be most attentive.
“During this time of the year, deer collisions typically increase, so it is essential for drivers to remain vigilant,” said Sergeant India Sturgis, DSP director of public information. “Deer are active during daylight hours as well as at dawn and dusk, when many drivers are on the road. Protect yourself and your vehicle from deer-related crashes by taking precautions. Buckle up, slow down, use high beams when appropriate, and scan for groups of deer. These measures may not prevent all crashes, but they can significantly reduce injuries and vehicle damage in the event of a crash.”
Based on reported insurance claims from July 1, 2022 to June 20, 2023, State Farm Insurance ranked Delaware 33rd nationally, with drivers having a 1-in-148 chance of being involved in an animal collision, and with deer accounting for the great majority of animal-related crashes and vehicle damage claims. Also, Delaware drivers rank 44th in the nationfor the number of animal collision claims, with nearly 6,000 estimated animal collision claims filed during the same timeframe. State Farm statistics over the past five years show declining risk and increasing collisions claims, including 2018 to 2019, when Delaware ranked 26th with a 1-in-132 risk of animal collisions with 5,800 estimated claims.
DNREC, OHS and DSP, along with all police agencies and auto insurance companies, are unanimous in naming attentive driving as the best way to prevent or lessen the severity of deer-vehicle collisions. Attentive driving entails avoiding distractions that can take a driver’s eyes off the road, such as mobile phones, adjusting the radio or in-car computer screen, eating while driving, and engaging a driver in passenger activities. Results from a State Farm survey indicate that just one risky driving behavior, such as speeding or using your phone, increases the chance of an animal collision by 23%.
Additional safety tips from the three Delaware agencies promoting safe driving not just during the rut but any time deer might be active 365 days a year include:
· Always wear your seatbelt to reduce your risk of injury in a collision.
· Reduce speed at night, on curves and in bad weather.
· Switch to high beams when there is no oncoming traffic to better reflect the eyes of deer on or near the roadway and scan the sides of the road as well as what’s directly ahead.
· Watch for “Deer Crossing” signs marking commonly-traveled areas by deer on the road ahead. Slow down immediately and proceed with caution until past the crossing point.
· Be aware deer usually travel in groups, so if you see one deer, there are likely to be others.
· When deer are sighted, slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten them away. Do not depend on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer, as these devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.
· Do not swerve to miss a deer – brake and stay in your lane. Losing control of your vehicle, crossing into another lane, hitting an oncoming vehicle, or leaving the roadway and striking a tree or utility pole will likely result in a much more serious outcome than hitting a deer.
· If you hit a deer, and your vehicle is damaged, stop at the scene, get your car off the road, if possible, turn on your vehicle hazard lights – and if you or anyone in your vehicle are injured, call 911.
· Do not touch the animal or get too close to it; an injured deer may bite or kick and are capable of causing serious injury.